Former butler on trial in Conn. extortion case
NEW HAVEN, Conn. --
Held hostage on her Connecticut estate, philanthropist Anne H. Bass received an injection from masked assailants who made a chilling ultimatum: Hand over millions of dollars for the antidote, or die from a deadly virus.
The men said Bass and her guest had 20 hours to produce $8.5 million. It was only later, after the men reconsidered and fled the house, that the victims learned that the substance was harmless, likely an ink.
A trial is starting in U.S. District Court this week for Emanuel Nicolescu, a former head butler at the Bass estate, who is the only person arrested in the crime. Nicolescu, 31, has pleaded not guilty to charges including attempted extortion.
His attorney declined comment.
Authorities say Nicolescu and at least two other men broke into the house around 11 p.m. on April 15, 2007, on the estate spanning several hundred acres in the western Connecticut town of Kent. The 69-year-old Bass, former wife of Texas billionaire Sid Bass, also has homes in New York and Fort Worth, Texas.
An attorney for the victims said in court papers they have lived in constant fear that the attackers still at large could harm them again. Bass and the other victim "look forward to justice being done," said a spokesman, Allan Mayer.
The attackers brandished knifes, blindfolded the victims and bound their hands while a 3-year-old child slept in the house. One of the victims saw the man that administered the injection to the other victim wore pale green gloves, according to court documents.
One of the victims told the men Bass did not keep that sum of money in the house and that she would have to contact associates out of state to get the money. At one point, the assailants considered transporting one or both of the victims to New York, according to an arrest affidavit.
The men talked on either cellphones or two-way radios.
After about five hours in the house, the men became concerned with the presence of the child, the health of the victims and their apparent inability to immediately obtain the money, the affidavit says. Before fleeing, the men gave the victims a beverage that they claimed was the antidote and the victims fell asleep.
Bass and her guest were later treated at a hospital.
Nicolescu had been in charge of the estate's household staff and provided housing on the property, but his employment was terminated months before the home invasion, according to authorities.
After the attack, his DNA was allegedly found in a Jeep that was stolen from the family and taken to New York.
Nicolescu's attorney said in court papers filed Tuesday that the attempted extortion charges should be dismissed because federal authorities lack jurisdiction. Nicolescu's attorneys say the law allows federal prosecution of robbery or extortion that interferes with interstate commerce but the crime lacks such an apparent link "other than the fact that one of the victims is extremely wealthy."
A message was left for prosecutors.
Nicolescu was born in Romania and came to the United States after his father sought political asylum as a refugee, his attorney said, according to court papers. Nicolescu has Romanian and U.S. citizenship.
He has been detained since his arrest in Chicago last year. A judge called him a flight risk, saying he has strong ties overseas and faces a long sentence if convicted.
Nicolescu is charged with attempted extortion, conspiracy to commit extortion, and possession of a stolen vehicle. He faces up to 50 years in prison if convicted at the trial beginning Wednesday.
About six days after the crime, an accordion case washed ashore in New York that included a stun gun, knife, black plastic airsoft gun, crowbar, syringes, Sleepinal caplets, green latex gloves and a laminated telephone card labeled with the address of the victim.
A co-defendant who is at large is an accordion player, prosecutors say.